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PostCards // Cambodia

To Keep You Is No Gain; To Lose You Is No Loss

Cambodia

"This is too good for you, Ros Sampeou," Noh Loas said. The front of his white shirt blossomed red. The blade struck a rib and scrapped it in a delicious path towards his heart.

"No." The word was a strangled whisper. It floated in the air, and Noh Loas could almost taste it, like he could almost taste the copper taste of the blood. It felt good to hear him say it.

Ros Sampeou face was a tight mask, the lips drawn back, wrinkling his face. His eyes were watery, they were beginning to lose focus. His breath was a hiss and wafted Noh Laos face with the scent of coffee and cigarettes.

"You are a parasite. You are an enemy of Angkar," Ros Sampeou said to him. "Stop your lying. No one believes you. All you have told me is lies. Perhaps you need to be reminded that you are a traitor, and we have testimony to that fact."

The front of his shirt was now drenched, the blood making large jagged patterns, and Noh Loas could feel it trickling onto his hands. He shoved him against the wall again, the blade till stuck up till its hilt in Sampeou chest. Sampeou opened his mouth, perhaps to say something, but only a trickle of blood came out from the corner of his mouth. He slumped backwards and crumpled like a sack of cloth when Noh Loas released him.

+++

"You are a parasite. You are an enemy of Angkar," Ros Sampeou said to him. "Stop your lying. No one believes you. All you have told me is lies. Perhaps you need to be reminded that you are a traitor, and we have testimony to that fact."

Sampeou pursed his lips and tapped him on the head. "We know how to make you talk. Noh Loas, many people have talked to me! They have told me all the evils you have done. All the evils you were doing when we came and saved you!"

Noh Loas whimpered. His head wound hadnt healed. He could hear the buzzing flies settling on him, he could feel their eager mouths probing caressing his wound.

There were cuts on his arms. Long gouges that ran the lenght of his arm. He could smell it - the flies had gotten to them as well. They had been laying their eggs. Noh Loas could feel the little baby maggots squirming, their fat little bodies sliding over his flesh as they feasted.

There were welts on his legs from where they have been whipping him. The skin was ragged and torn.

Sampeou smiled softly. He put his lips next to his ear and whispered, "Even your wife has told us the truth."

+++

A sudden phrase, spoken with just the correct lilt, spoken in jest to the vegetable lady by a side street in Phnom Penh. And Noh Loas was lost, he was transported back 30 years, lying on his back on a cold steel bed in an empty cell and a smiling interrogator standing over him, cajoling him in the same tone, "Come on now, we must have it."

"Come on now, we must have it," the man behind him spoke. "It's too expensive. I only need half a kilo."

Noh Loas grew cold. There was a piercing feeling in his heart. He couldnt move, he couldnt breathe - he was suddenly a tree. The world blew by, the balmy evening, the cool breeze flowing from the Mekong, the incessant voices like birds chirping, drowning him in a sea of cacophony and the motorcycles, roaring by blowing clouds of dust and thick grey smoke.

But the world was still around Noh Loas. The phrase rolled in his head, bouncing off the walls in his skull. It was all coming back now. He thought he had those memories cornered and canned and locked somewhere deep after he remade his life.

He thought he never again had to worry about S-21. He had gone in for three weeks and lived, and he was a different man now. He thought he was over it after all the nightmares became a dim memory after years of huddling in the corner and crying dry tears as he rolled on his haunches.

It was all coming back. His breath came back in a ragged cough.

He turned. Ros Sampeou was still chatting with the vegetable lady as she weighed his carrots, and placed them in a small plastic bag. It was Ros Sampeou - much older, he must be in his mid-sixties now. The hair was grey, streaked with white, and his face was crisscrossed with wrinkles, but the eyes were still the same.

He's still alive!

Ros Sampeou collected his plastic bag and turned and looked at Noh Loas. "Good evening," he said as their eyes met.

He's going to recognise me, he thought.

But it didnt happened. Ros Sampeou smiled slightly and pushed his way past him, still looking spritely for someone his age.

He doesn't know me! He must have killed hundreds of people in S-21! I was just another number, an entry in a notebook!

Noh Loas turned to watch him go, feeling like a ghost. He craned his neck just in time to see Sampeou duck into a coffeeshop.

Somehow Noh Loas found the strenght to move his feet.

+++

They came to his house late one night in late December 1978. They were but several boys, kids really, their kramas wrapped around their mouths as they pointed a rifle at him. They roused him out of bed, throwing him onto the floor, and Noh Loas got to his feet uncertainly.

"Come with us. Angkar wants to talk to you. You need to be reeducated," one of them said menacingly. He grabbed Noh Loas arm and pulled him out of his little hut in the trainyards.

"I didnt do anything!" Noh Loas whispered, his throat dry and raspy as cotton, and they took it as a sign - one of them struck him in the stomach with the butt of his rifle. Noh Loas dropped to his knees, and there was a kick, somewhat misplaced and he was stumbling backwards. He saw a dark and wooden shape in the periphery of his vision and as he closed his eyes there was a sharp immediate pain in his temple.

He passed out.

He awoke with the sun on his face. He was on a bed - he could feel the cold metal through his shirt. His head was pounding, and he could feel his blood caked across his face. He could taste it in his mouth. He groaned and tried to get up, but he was tied down - his legs were encased in shackles at the foot of the bed, too tightly that were beginning to lacerate his ankles. His arms were by his side, and he could feel the cold steel bands across his wrist.

He raised his head to have a look. There was a guard with a stoic look glaring at him. He was in black pants and a black shirt and as he looked the guard stepped forward and raised his arm. He had a stout bamboo stick and he struck him on his head again.

Noh Loas head exploded in pain and he passed out again.

He came around drenched - someone had thrown a bucket of cold water on him. His head was stinging. There was a man standing over him, looking down benignly at him. He screamed.

"My name is Ros Sampeou. I am your teacher. You are a traitor to the Democratic Kampuchea. You are a 17 April person, a leech. We have all your transgressions. Your friends, our comrades have told us how you have betrayed the Democratic Kampuchea to the Vietnamese.

"Remember Noh Loas, to keep you is no gain; to lose you is no loss."

+++

"This will do," Noh Loas said as he felt the weight of the knife in his hand.

"Yes, that will cut the meat and the bone. Not a problem," the shopkeeper said as the took the money from Noh Loas, expertly folded it and slipped it into his back pocket. "What do you need it for?"

Ros Sampeou was sitting in the coffeeshop, legs folded with the day's papers balanced on them. Noh Loas stood in the shadows across the street as the world flew by him, staring intently into the coffeeshop as he grew harder inside slowly. The hate was rising like a bubble, a volcano dormant for decades. He looked around and found what he wanted in a small utensil shop a few metres away.

"I have a pig I need to cut up."

"Yes," the shopkeeper said. "That will do the job."

Noh Loas smiled.

+++

"This is too good for you, Ros Sampeou," Noh Loas said. The front of his white shirt blossomed red. The blade struck a rib and scrapped it in a delicious path towards his heart.

"No," Sampeou whispered.

"To keep you is no gain and to lose you is no loss," Noh Loas said. He took a step back, rubbing his shoe against the side of the wall where Sampeou blood had dripped. He took a final look and disappeared into the night.